— No such thing as a bad season in college football. If you ask me, they are all memorable, some with twists and turns, others with start-to-finish domination, most with unforgettable characters and performances.
Here are the season-ending awards for 2009:
The Alabama Crimson Tide. Coach Nick Saban has quickly assembled a powerful program that looks like it will last for a long, long time. The Tide had a close call or two — needing two blocked field-goal attempts against Tennessee, then a road escape at Auburn in the Iron Bowl — but who doesn’t? Alabama, better prepared and more physical, left no doubt with a 32-13 win against Florida at the SEC championship game.
Most exciting game
Cincinnati 45, Pittsburgh 44. The Bearcats locked down a 12-0 season and their second straight BCS bowl appearance, despite trailing 31-10 on the road. Special teams became a huge factor. Mardy Gilyard immediately answered with a kickoff-return touchdown. Later, Pittsburgh botched an extra-point attempt. Oh, and the drama unfolded in a snowstorm, making for great television.
Most exciting game (runner-up)
Oregon 37, Oregon State 33. The Civil War decided the Pac-10’s Rose Bowl bid — and the anticipation of that was excitement enough. Then the Ducks and Beavers staged a wonderfully dramatic game that featured six lead changes and a combined 878 yards of offense. More drama: LeGarrette Blount, who had been suspended, then inactive since his punch of a Boise State player on Sept. 3, entered in the third quarter and scored a key touchdown.
Best offensive player
Toby Gerhart, Stanford. With 10 games of 100 yards or more (including three that surpassed 200 yards) and 26 touchdowns, the Cardinal had an imposing force.
Best defensive player
Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska. The defensive tackle does more than occupy blockers. He makes plays — huge plays — and could be the NFL draft’s No. 1 selection.
Texas senior Colt McCoy has won a record 45 games and has his Longhorns positioned for a national championship. Good thing that final second was put back on the clock at the Big 12 Championship Game or else McCoy would have a lot of explaining to do.
Most electrifying player
C.J. Spiller, Clemson. He was the nation’s only player to score a touchdown in each game. He produced a touchdown five different ways (rushing, receiving, kickoff return, punt return and passing). He moved to 7,416 all-purpose yards, third all-time. And he nearly won the ACC championship — all by himself.
Lifetime achievement award
Tim Tebow, Florida. Yes, he is one of the best players in SEC (and college football) history for all he has done — on and off the field. Still, we’re not sure why he was among the five Heisman Trophy finalists invited to New York. Tebow didn’t have the season of 2007 (or 2008). Meanwhile, the accomplishments of Houston quarterback Case Keenum (5,449 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, 71 percent completion rate) were all but ignored.
Well, the ol’ two-point conversion pass to the 350-pound offensive tackle would have to rank pretty high. Fresno State beat Illinois 53-52 when Ryan Colburn’s conversion pass was batted away by an Illinois defensive back … and back into the hands of Devan Cunningham, a 350-pounder who caught it at the 2-yard line and somehow rolled into the end zone.
Cincinnati (12-0), which went from unranked team to BCS bowl bid recipient. And had it not been for that phantom final second at the Big 12 championship game, the Bearcats might have been playing Alabama for a national title. The Bearcats came into the season trying to replace 10 defensive starters. And who knew that former fifth-stringer Tony Pike would develop into an early season Heisman Trophy candidate before his season was derailed by injury.
Biggest surprise (runner-up)
Arizona (8-4), picked as a lower-division team in the Pac-10, became one of the nation’s most fun-to-watch teams. The Wildcats suffered two Pac-10 losses by a field goal and also fell in the early season to Iowa, which wound up 10-2.
Hands down, the USC Trojans. An early season 16-13 loss to Washington appeared to be an aberration. Nope. The Trojans, a familiar dynasty that had appeared in seven consecutive BCS bowl games with Coach Pete Carroll, checked out as an 8-4 unranked team after getting shocked by Oregon (47-20), Stanford (55-21) and Arizona (21-17), the latter two at home.
Biggest disappointment (runner-up)
The Oklahoma Sooners were coming off a record-breaking season that ended with a defeat in the BCS Championship Game. So exactly how did the Sooners wind up as a 7-5 Sun Bowl team? Yes, there were mitigating circumstances (Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham suffered season-ending injuries) and there were four losses by a combined 12 points.
Coach of the year
Al Golden, Temple. Lots of candidates here, including some going for championships and BCS bowl victories, but let’s go with a guy who pulled off the near-impossible. Temple, remember, was one of the nation’s worst programs and it was even kicked out of the Big East for non-competitiveness. Now the Owls are 9-3, a factor in the Mid-American Conference and bowl bound.
Most unlikely hero
Ohio State place-kicker Devin Barclay, who hit the game-winning field goal against Iowa, sending the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl. Barclay, 26, is a former professional soccer player.
Connecticut tailed off into a three-game losing streak following the heart-wrenching death of Jasper Howard and the season seemed to be slipping away. But the Huskies (7-5) finished with a three-game winning streak, including a riveting 33-30 overtime victory at Notre Dame, to earn a bowl bid.
Best recovery (runner-up)
The Nevada Wolf Pack (8-4) were 0-3, then went on an eight-game winning streak to finish as the WAC’s best team not named Boise State.
The Michigan Wolverines began 4-0, then lost seven of their last eight games, including five straight, to finish 5-7. Welcome to Year Three, Coach Rich Rodriguez, where you will be performing without a safety net.
Worst collapse (runner-up)
The Kansas Jayhawks opened 5-0, then it came apart rapidly with a season-closing seven-game losing streak. Along the way, Coach Mark Mangino shifted to embattled status, fighting off charges of abuse from former players, and resigned.
Most stunning no-show
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish seemed to have a schedule set up for 10-2 and a BCS bowl bid. Instead, the Irish fell apart down the stretch, losing four straight games and forcing the firing of Coach Charlie Weis.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is leaving — more accurately, pushed toward the door — after 34 sterling seasons with the Seminoles. When Bowden took over in 1976, the program was in disarray. He transformed it into a dynasty, compiling a run that will never be equaled (14 straight seasons with at least 10 victories and a top-five finish, along with two national championships). The Seminoles are just 6-6 heading to the Gator Bowl, Bowden’s final game, and the Florida Gators have firm control of the state. The final act wasn’t what Bowden had in mind. But let’s not forget the bigger picture. Thanks for the memories, Bobby.